The haunting melodies, the unerring harmonies, the sophisticated compositions, Valencia (Blackwood Records), by the Welsh twenty-something duo, Into The Ark, is but an EP tease to what will surely be one of pop music’s most impressive full-length debuts later this year.
Taylor Marshall Jones, 22, and Dane Lloyd, 26, left South Wales when they were teenagers with guitars to backpack and sing the songs of John Mayer, Brian Wilson, Marvin Gaye, Paul Simon, Bob Marley, Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry on the friendly streets in Australia where they wound up making up to $200-an-hour. They learned these songs from their grandparents because their parents were only into Simple Minds, Jamiroquai and Toto. Then they traveled to Tunisia in Northwest Africa where they landed a posh gig at a swanky hotel where they started writing their own songs.
The hotel was always filled with well-heeled Euro-tourists. It wasn’t long before Sony came a’sniffin’ around and offered them a big-bucks record contract. Sony saw dollar signs. That’s their job. Into The Ark saw their newfound songwriting propensities being turned into teen idol fodder and they had the balls — if not the brains — to tell Sony to kiss off.
They did, though, accept an offer to be on The Voice U.K., mentored by Sir Tom Jones, but when it came time for the final show, they absolutely refused to perform the “original” song that the show’s producers wrote for them because it really wasn’t theirs. They lost the competition but made such an impact on Sir Tom that he took them out with him on a 20-date tour of the U.S. They had never been to the States before.
Are these kids punks or what? You don’t turn down Sony, you don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, and you certainly don’t mess with a TV show that could set you up for life. They certainly didn’t turn down American music giant Warner-Chappell who offered them the kind of publishing deal that artists work their whole lives trying to obtain.
Backstage, in their dressing room at the Sands in Bethlehem Pennsylvania, Dane Lloyd, who writes most of the songs and sings the harmonies, says, “We had put out a few EPs but things had slowed down and we had to reconsider our options. That’s when we were sent a wire inviting us to participate on The Voice U.K. At first, we were pretty skeptical. Like the whole Sony thing, we wondered if we’d still be credible as artists if we did the whole TV thing. But we knew the winner would get a record contract, and we figured that even if were booted off early, which is what we thought would happen for sure, all exposure is good, right?
He admits that, despite all the experience in exotic locales, the duo was “shitting ourselves in fear,” at the first American gig, but when Sir Tom beckoned for them to come out during his headlining set to sing Sam & Dave’s “Hold On I’m Coming,” Otis Redding’s “Dock Of The Bay” and Johnny Cash’s “Ring Of Fire” with him as duets, they so completely won over the crowd that they were looking forward to hitting the Sands stage and doing it again on, this, the second night of the tour.
“I think Tom likes us so much because we’re from similar South Wales valleys that are geographically close to each other,” says Taylor Marshall Jones (no relation). “We live 10 minutes away from him. We’re his homeboys. And he really has been amazing with us. What a true gentleman! I think we remind him of him when he was young. Same mannerisms, same accent. And he has a great sense of humor…sometimes at our expense. He makes us giggle all the time.”
Upon their road manager sticking his head into the dressing room and yelling, “Five minutes!” they politely extricate themselves from this reporter to dress for the stage. Their set — with two acoustic guitars and drums — is still teen idol fodder but with the kind of songs that resonate far after the music’s over. Plus, they take Presley’s “Burning Love” and Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass” and make them into slow smoldering sex bombs. This audience, though, is mostly made up of blue-haired grannies wetting their panties for the past and present idol Sir Tom Jones.
Jones, it has to be noted, has totally reinvented himself as true artists usually do. His last three CDs — 2010’s Praise And Blame, 2012’s Spirit In The Room and, especially, 2015’s Long Lost Suitcase — are all masterpieces of deep, dark gospel-rock and soulful interpretations of Leonard Cohen, Willie Nelson, Willie Dixon, Los Lobos and Hank Williams. His voice, amazingly enough, at 77, is stronger than ever. You can count the amount of artists who don’t hit their artistic peak until 70 on one hand. Sir Tom Jones is one of those artists. He prowled the Sands stage like a lion in the jungle. His band rocks. His blues gets under the skin. In a word, he was magnificent.
His home boys Into The Ark came off like super-professionals and when they come back for their duets, got the kind of tumultuous ovation usually reserved for home town heroes.